Human Rights Council to hold special session on financial crisis

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Received by mail:
From: HREA – Human Rights Education Associates and its Newsletter
Date: 23/02/2009

Received the long introduction speech hold by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on February 20, 2009:

(an excerpt): … I will now describe in greater detail instances of vulnerabilities that are of pressing concern. It is already evident that tensions and hardship are affecting migrant workers in many countries. These workers are most likely to be the first in line to losing their jobs not only because their status is called into question, but also because they are employed in sectors that are particularly affected by the economic crisis. Worse, recession may give rise to xenophobic passions, discriminatory practices and even attacks against migrant workers and their families.

As opportunities for regular migration labor decrease, unemployed migrants may seek to work without authorization. This would render them even more vulnerable. Protection of the rights of migrants in terms of their working and living conditions, and in the event of loss of employment, should be integrated in responses to the crises. Crucially, no effort should be spared to protect migrants from discrimination and xenophobia.

In the same vein, let me point out that times of hardship for families and communities often expose women and girls to greater risk, since the venting of frustration and despair increases the likelihood of violence against them. Moreover, in the course of economic downturns, women’s economic and social rights are jeopardized. They see their job opportunities shrink, are forced to accept more marginal and ill-paid employment and forego basic services to secure food and shelter. Addressing their needs and critical vulnerabilities is thus imperative. Preventive initiatives, safeguards, as well as economic recovery and growth measures, must be designed to be gender-sensitive and non-discriminatory. They must create an environment conducive to women’s participation in decision-making processes. Policies must accommodate women’s demands for justice and for remedial action.

International cooperation and assistance

The negative effects of the financial and economic crises are felt disproportionally in the developing and least developed countries. Resorting to international cooperation and assistance may become inevitable. To this effect, human rights consideration should be taken into account by all States in a position to provide cooperation, assistance and aid, or that can influence the outcome of policies by intergovernmental organizations and financial institutions aimed at alleviating economic hardship.

Let me remind this Council that the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities envisage and provide guidance regarding the framework of such international cooperation. Moreover, as the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights stated in General Comment No. 3:

International cooperation for development and thus for the realization of economic, social and cultural rights is an obligation of all States. It is particularly incumbent upon those States which are in a position to assist others in this regard.

In this spirit, I welcome the outcome document of the Doha Review Conference on Financing for Development. It calls on all donors to maintain and deliver on their commitments. The outcome document also urges the international community, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, to draw on the full range of their policy advice and resources, as appropriate, to help developing countries and countries with economies in transition to strengthen their economies, maintain growth and protect the most vulnerable groups against the severe impacts of the current downturn.

Let me underscore that the Millennium Development Goals should not become casualties of the crises. Now, more than ever, there is a need for a holistic, integrated human rights approach to development strategies. This approach will help to meet the challenges of poverty and climate change, ensuring that human rights principles of accountability, transparency and non-discrimination are at the core of development strategies.

I will now briefly discuss the role of non-State actors in the context of these crises. Governments should ensure that private concerns and the corporate sector are fully aware of the role they play either in fostering, or conversely, in undermining human rights. States have the primary duty to protect their populations against human rights abuses by non-State actors and to provide justice when abuses do occur. However, I would also like to point out that, for their part, private actors, including financial institutions, have a responsibility to ensure that their operations do not violate human rights. In this regard, I welcome this Council’s endorsement of the framework that the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises offered in order to guide the actions of States and businesses vis-à-vis human rights … (UNHCHR, 20 February 2009).

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